User's Guide to Shopping: The Best Toys Ever

TOYS:

  • Monopoly
  • Etch A Sketch
  • Slinky
  • Easy Bake Oven
  • Hot Wheels
  • Mr. Potato Head
  • Hula Hoop
  • LEGOs
  • Bears
  • Barbie

 

  • Monopoly—The best-selling board game actually has its roots in an earlier game called The Landlord’s Game that aimed to teach people what an awful thing it was to have (or be) a money-grubbing, price-gouging landlord. Instead, people adapted that game, added street names from their own communities, and created a folk game with the goal of driving their friends and family into bankruptcy—it’s fun! Charles Darrow applied Atlantic City properties to that folk game and created the game we know and love today. I have a Monopoly: Here and Now version from about six years ago in my office that would be easy to bring. It updates the game with new playing pieces (Toyota Prius, Motorola cell phone, Starbucks mug), substitutes airports for railroads, and uses famous landmarks from across the U.S. like the Mall of America and Fenway Park rather than Boardwalk and Park Place.
  • Etch A Sketch—This toy was invented in France and was originally called the Magic Screen. Based on the principle of static cling, just like acrylic sweaters coming out of the dryer, it operates by using a stylus that scrapes a coating of aluminum powder off the back of the clear screen to leave a black line. A little company from northwest Ohio called Ohio Art finally paid what they considered an outrageous sum--$25,000—on the rights to make the toy in the U.S. Renamed Etch A Sketch, it was a big hit for the holidays in 1960 and remains a popular drawing toy to today, with no paper, markers, or crayons required.
  • Slinky—The springy toy started as an invention to cushion naval instruments in World War II but, once its creator saw it walk off a shelf, he marketed it as a plaything instead. Slinky got off to a slow start in the market—who wants to pay $1 for what looks like a mattress spring?—but sales soared once people saw demonstrations of it walking down stairs and making that slinkety sound (a good advertising jingle helped too).
  • Mr. Potato Head—Originally the famous spud was going to be a cereal box premium. You’d find eyes, ears, nose, and a mouth in a packet at the bottom of your cornflake box. The Hassenfeld Brothers (they later shortened their company name to Hasbro) got wind of the concept and thought it was way too good to be a giveaway. So Mr. Potato Head was born and he received one of the very first toy product launches with TV advertising, a strategy that proved exceptionally successful. Originally, kids had to supply their own potato and jab it with the facial features. Pierced potatoes moldering under beds and in closets undoubtedly led to smelly tuber meltdowns that weren’t popular with moms and later versions came with plastic potatoes.
  • Hula Hoop—The miracle material of molded plastic turned bamboo exercise hoops from Australia into a pop culture sensation. In 1958, WHAM-O could hardly make them fast enough to keep up with demand. Eventually the craze passed but the fad toy didn’t go away. It had BBs added in the 1960s for Shoop-Shoop Hula Hoops and has enjoyed a recent comeback as an exercise device. (As a bonus, Susan and Shane can testify that I’m willing and ready to Hula Hoop at any time, including a clip on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno about 10 years ago.)